• Juan

Art, indigenous labor, and workers' rights in Mexico

On May 14, 2019, a few months after the Oscars ceremony, in which “Roma” won three awards, Mexico’s Congress unanimously approved a bill granting the two million domestic workers in the country rights to social protections and a written employment contract, along with law-mandated benefits such as paid vacation days, Christmas bonuses and days off. - Aparicio, "In Mexico, Roma Lit a Fire for Workers' Rights", NYT.

In a recently published opinion piece for the New York Times, Yalitza Aparicio discusses how her experience as an indigenous woman, turned superstar, allowed her and her work to expand beyond her individual achievements. After it became an international hit, Roma (2018), significantly impacted the lives of many people whose lives were used as the anecdotal material for the movie’s production. Countless domestic workers in Mexico have been subject not only to exploitation for their manual labor, but also because of their stories and the symbolic value that their experiences have had in the country’s longstanding tradition of appropriating the lives of the vulnerable, the poor and the disenfranchised through a racists lens -perhaps best exemplified by the country’s numerous examples of whitewashing in telenovelas.

Aparicio’s experience as an indigenous star has provoked a sort of backlash originating in Mexico’s own xenophobic and racist culture, and the still prevailing illusion of cultural assimilation under which most Mexicans to this date have been raised. Pushed by the government and reinforced by cultural, financial and social elites, ever ready to lay the burden of social peace on everyone else but unwilling to share their access to financial and symbolic power. In Aparicio’s opinion, the fact that a single movie could bring about such important conversations to the forefront is sufficient justification for the existence of art.

The effects of the movie have not only been felt in Mexico, but other places around the world as well. In Carmen Juarez Palma’s opinion, herself a former domestic worker in Spain, the movie reinforces various stereotypes about domestic employment and, although she recognizes that the specific context of the movie is difficult to translate into the Spanish contemporary situation, she still identifies certain points of convergence. Juarez Palma’s experience, and her trajectory should be celebrated and further studied to identify how those opportunities for advancement can be made more accessible for domestic workers. Unfortunately, her own experience can hardly be said to be the norm in Europe, Mexico or elsewhere.


For the consumer, as well as for the critic, these reflections should interpellate their participation in the market that has grown based on this particular model of exploitation. However many articles we have published in the past few years discussing the poor, or the experiences of disenfranchisement for our own professional advancement necessitates a deeper and continuous evaluation of research focuses, practices and purposes. For the citizens and communities interacting with these underappreciated workers, particularly with those of indigenous origins, the time for self-criticism is long overdue.

Further reading:

Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación, "Documento Informativo sobre Trabajadoras del Hogar 2014", CONAPRED, 2014. DOI: https://www.conapred.org.mx/documentos_cedoc/DI_TdelHogar_2014_INACC.pdf

Consejo Nacional de Evaluación de la Política de Derecho Socia,"Estudio diagnóstico del derecho al trabajo 2018",CONEVAL, 2018. DOI: https://www.coneval.org.mx/Evaluacion/IEPSM/Documents/Derechos_Sociales/Estudio_Diag_Trabajo_2018.pdf

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